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Sunday, May 19, 2024

What can we expect from the House?

“House members will focus on bills seeking to boost employment generation and extend support to micro, small and medium enterprises that make up more than 90 percent of the Philippine economy”

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With a new administration poised to take over by July 1st, the 19th Congress marks a new beginning for the legislative branch of government.

While it faces formidable challenges in the economic, political and social spheres, it must resolve these challenges with dispatch by crafting new legislation and amending existing ones to respond to changed conditions.

The House of Representatives begins its work for the next six years on a positive note.

The presumptive Speaker, the House Majority Leader in the 18th Congress, is Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez. He is a first cousin of President-elect Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. and, as such, enjoys a close personal relationship with the incoming Chief Executive that can facilitate close cooperation and inter-action between the two branches of our democratic system of government.

Romualdez must be able to build consensus among the different political parties for the Marcos administration’s legislative agenda.

As it is constituted at present, the House has 66 members belonging to the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan or PDP-Laban; 36 from the Nacionalista Party (NP); 33 from the Unity National Party (UNP); and 35 from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

Romualdez’s own party, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), has 26 members, while the Liberal Party (LP) has 10 congressmen.

There are six Independents, while the Hugpong ng Pagbabago or Alliance for Change has six members in Congress. The People’s Reform Party won three seats while the Party for Democratic Reform and the Federal Party of the Philippines, and the Federalism of the Noble Blooded Association have two members each sitting in the Lower Chamber.

A total 177 party-list groups competed in the 2022 polls, but only 63 of their nominees managed to make the cut and earn a House seat.

The 2022 party-list race was dominated by ACT-CIS, which will have three representatives in Congress.

Reelectionist groups Citizen’s Battle Against Corruption (Cibac), Bagong Henerasyon (BH), Kabalikat ng Mamamayan (Kabayan), Magsasaka, Senior Citizens, and Duterte Youth; Komunidad ng Pamilya Pasyente at Persons With Disabilities (P3PWD); Social Amelioration & Genuine Intervention on Poverty (Sagip); Pinatatag na Ugnayan para sa mga Oportunidad sa Pabahay ng Masa (Pinuno); and Kalinga-Advocacy for Social Empowerment and Nation-Building through Easing Poverty (Kalinga).

The regional party-list groups include Tingog Sinirangan; Uswag Ilonggo, based in Western Visayas; Abante Pangasinan-Ilokano Party (API); Probinsyano Ako; Ako Bicol; Bicol Saro; Ako Bisaya; and An Waray – Eastern Visayas (Leyte, Eastern Samar, and Samar).

The Makabayan bloc only managed to obtain three seats, with one each for Gabriela, Kabataan and ACT Teachers.

The party-list groups constitute a significant bloc in the 19th Congress, and have the numbers to influence the outcome of voting on important bills.

They are also expected to fight tooth and nail to fight for the retention of the status quo on the party-list system, particularly on the Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates for various party-list groups to apply for accreditation even if they do not represent marginalized or underrepresented sectors.

Recall that President Duterte recently called for changes in the party-list system, but it seemed he did so only because he wanted the progressive groups out of the House.

Given the dominance of pro-administration lawmakers in the 19th Congress, Malacañang is also likely to find smooth sailing for its priority bills just like in the Senate.

With the incoming administration focused on hastening economic recovery, we expect a deluge of bills seeking to raise taxes aimed at funding priority infrastructure projects and vital social services such as education and health.

We’re also certain that House members will focus on bills seeking to boost employment generation and extend support to micro, small and medium enterprises that make up more than 90 percent of the Philippine economy.

Will the 19th Congress also tackle the contentious issue of Charter change and a shift from the unitary to the federal system of government that the Duterte administration pushed years back but abandoned even after a constitutional commission recommended such a shift?

We do not harbor any illusion that the House would even consider any proposed bill that would enforce the constitutional ban on political dynasties through an enabling law.

But we expect members of the House and its leadership to give priority to bills that would intensify poverty alleviation efforts, including the continuation or even expansion of the 4Ps (Pantawid Pampamilyang Pilipino Program) that gives a monthly subsidy to the poorest of the poor to allow them to keep body and soul together amid difficult times.

What is important, from where we sit, is for the incoming leadership of the 19th Congress to foster consensus on policies and programs aimed at ensuring political stability, sustained economic growth and social concord in the next six years.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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